There’s always more than what meets the eye—or ear. Inside every Fear Factory record dwells a strict theme secured by screws and bolts bigger than any human’s eye. Influenced by the philosophies deep in the passages of sci-fi novels and franchises, this industrial metal band continues to thrive in the music world, surviving a couple of hiatuses and the ever-evolving business industry. And with the immense abundance of creativity flowing through each bandmate, it’s no wonder how they survived—and still found time to pursuit other paths.
Since 1990, Fear Factory have been spanning the world, gracing us all with eclectic, electrifying ideas and strong, thematic tracks. With their ninth album, Genexus, set to release in late August, these guys have set out for yet another international tour in celebration of their newest material. And, according to Fear Factory founder, vocalist, and writer, Burton C. Bell, their audiences love the sneak peak at a couple of new tracks. And he recently gave a little insight as to what Fear Factory is about—and opened up about a few of his other passions.
How was the first night of the tour? I saw you guys had your first show last night?
Yup. And we’re in… Tucson! That’s where we were. Tucson, Arizona. It was pretty good! Luckily, we landed back in the United States on Tuesday, and we just finished a three-week tour in Europe, so we’re all good and ready to go.
Starting off in Europe? How did that go?
It went good! But the tour was great, it was a great turnout, and the crowd was very receptive. We played a couple of new songs and, well, one down, 30 to go!
So, do you have a set playlist for each show, or do you switch it up a little?
Nah, we have a set playlist. We create a setlist and it has a great flow, so we’ll just stick with that setlist for the whole tour.
Do you play any of your new material from Genexus?
Yeah. We play two new tracks: “Dielectric” and “Protomech.”
How does the audience respond?
Yeah, they seemed pretty responsive. The tracks have been out, so they’ve known about them for a few weeks. So they were very responsive and they’re familiar with “Dielectric” and they seemed to like it.
I saw you go well into December with this tour—how many shows does Fear Factory play?
Well, we… We probably do at least a couple hundred shows. And, you know, it’s what we do and this is our career path and we enjoy it. And it’s better than not playing!
Fear Factory have been together pretty much since 1990. How has the music changed in your opinion?
Well, we got together in 1990 and we’ve been together for 25 years and, you know, it’s a learning process and there’s challenges in every new record and we wanna do well, and you wanna push yourself without losing your identity. And you want to experiment without losing your identity because when you lose your identity, your fans don’t recognize you. And that’s the challenge.
In the early days, like the first record, it was all about learning how to write music and the second record was about defining our sound and the third record was about just writing better songs and it doesn’t get any more challenging after that! And this is our ninth studio record.
So, how hard was it writing your first album?
Uh, I don’t know. I wouldn’t say it was hard, I mean, we had fun with it—and it’s what we do, and it was all experimentation, so there was no errors. We could try anything and the first record is kinda all over the place. But we were all dedicated and we were all working jobs and we would rehearse three or four times a week. And when my car wasn’t working, which was a lot, I had to ride the bus from my job to some place far away. But I would ride after work, go to rehearsal, and then ride for a couple hours to get home.
But yeah, we were dedicated, and it’s what we wanted to do. And when you’re young… That was, what, 1990? I was 21, 22, so if having a band is what you wanna do, you have to dedicate yourself to it and you’ve gotta go full-throttle into it. And I didn’t get a job like a nine-to-five desk job for advancement. I was just getting a job to survive. But we had a lot of fun back then. There was partying. No consequences.
Fear Factory took a few hiatuses in the past. What did these breaks do for the band? Did they help you guys grow or?
Yeah. I mean, it helps. Like personal relationships. Sometimes, you have to step away. It’s like a marriage. And you have to deal with these people daily and for anything like that, communication is the most important thing. And sometimes, you just have to step away and figure out how to communicate better. A lot of bands go through that—not just us. A lot of bands go through it.
I think we all can relate to that when you put it that way. But how did you guys get back together? What was that like?
Well, I was on tour with Ministry. I was the vocalist in Ministry for a while from 2006-2008. So in 2008, we were touring for Ministry’s new album and we got to the end of the show and we just kind of reunited right then and there.
And I’m glad because it’s something that I was missing and it not only helps me creatively, but it helps me survive as well. Helps me mentally and physically and monetarily.
Alright; you mentioned you were a singer in Ministry but you have yet another band, Ascension Of The Watchovers?
Yeah. That’s another project I started in 2002 with John Bechdel, who was also in Ministry with me, and it’s completely different from Fear Factory. It’s very textured and melodic and it’s spiritually contentious. Not religious, but spiritual and it’s about the Watchovers—it’s the story of the Jesuit Scrolls from the Book Of Enoch, so it’s like, kind of like a story of a Watchover who is able to find passion once again. So that’s what the Watchovers are.
That’s so complex! How did you come up with that?
Well, a lot of reading, soul searching, and with what I was feeling in my heart at the time. But it is complex, that’s part of the challenge. I wanted to create something complex, something interesting, make it a story. And that’s what music was always about to me: telling a story.
Are Ascension Of The Watchovers still together, even though you’re in Fear Factory?
Yeah, we’re still together. We’ve never broken up; it’s just that Fear Factory takes precedence because I have to survive.
That makes sense. But while Fear Factory was on hiatus, did you ever consider a solo career?
I think about it. I’ve always been an artist and I dropped out of art school. I was in art school in Washington, D.C. and I dropped out and I moved to Los Angeles and I wanted to be a writer but I ended up in a band, writing. But I’ve never gonna retire. My career is just going to evolve and take on creative and artistic endeavors as I go along. Writing, photography, music, I’m just all over the place, but I’m 46 now.
So, you write, do photography, write music… How did you get into all of that?
It’s how I grew up. I have an artistic family. My mother is very artistically inclined. That’s how I learned and I’ve always enjoyed art. And you should check out my new website: BurtonCBell.com. And I have a graphic novel that I’m releasing. I wrote it and I hired a couple of artists to do the graphics for it. So there’s going to be a limited edition of that, there’s photographs available for print, but yeah. There’ll be other kinds of music up there that I do.
So wait, you have a graphic novel coming out, on top of a new album?
Yeah. I did it completely independently and, so, I did everything. And you can only find it on my website, so you should check it out. It’s my first graphic novel and I hope to do more as well as other types of writing and photography. I went to art school for photography. Yeah. Photography and creative writing. But creative writing was my minor. But yeah, that’s what I wanna do. Just keep it all going.
Okay. Your music is industrial metal and with a name like Fear Factory, are you into writing horror?
I love sci-fi. I’ve always liked sci-fi. It’s just very interesting and plausible to me. Like the concept, or theory behind the stories like Kurt Vonnegut to George Orwell, or Gibson. It just keeps going. Even Star Wars and Star Trek. This is what fueled me as a child and that’s what Fear Factory stories are about. They’re science fiction; man versus machine, man becoming machine, and these stories are the science fiction genre.
And people like these stories because it creates boundaries. It makes them feel safe and that’s why Fear Factory isn’t just metal, but industrial metal. Thematic metal. It’s more than industrial. We love movies, we love the genre of science fiction, so this is… I love it. The philosophy behind science fiction of man becoming more…
Getting back to music, you’re just releasing an album this summer, but while you’re on tour, do you think you’ll be playing around with any new music ideas?
For Fear Factory, maybe. For Watchovers, possibly. We’re just trying to keep it moving. In the music industry, you’ve gotta keep working because it’s the only way you can survive. Unfortunately, people need to understand that you need to support your favorite artist because they won’t be able to put out records, they won’t be able to tour. And that’s what fans don’t understand sometimes. If you don’t support them, how are we going to create? I mean, I tell my friends they’ve gotta buy a shirt.
So, what are your plans once this tour is finally over? You’ve got the graphic novel, a new album, two bands… What are you planning?
I plan to do something with the Watchovers.
Don’t forget to catch Fear Factory as they pull into the Irving Plaza on Aug. 11 and Underground Arts in Philadelphia on Aug. 15. And their newest album, Genexus, is set for release in late August. For more information on the band, visit fearfactory.com, and for more on Burton Bell, visit burtoncbell.com.